Many bitter vets like me forget what it was like to be introduced to the puzzle that is ship fitting. There are hundreds of different modules to fit and complete liberty to choose which ones might go onto your first few ships. This complete liberty means players can get creative with their ship fittings; it's one of the more interesting aspects of EVE Online. This liberty is a double-edged sword: creative and interesting fits can be dreamed up just as easily as terrible, useless fits. For the newer players that may be browsing this site, the ALOD (awful loss of the day) articles may be a bit of a mystery because they require an understanding of ship fitting. This is the first of two guides to help people understand the basics of ship fitting and how that applies to a good PvE or PvP fit.
There are three different module slot types: low, medium, and high. Players also have two to three separate module slots for rigs, depending on whether it's a T1 or T2 ship. High slots are reserved for offensive and logistics modules: remote repair modules (armor and shield), any kind of weapon, energy neutralizers, cloaking modules, and gang link modules. Medium slots are reserved for shield tanks, propulsion systems (afterburners and microwarpdrives), capacitor modules (boosters and rechargers), and any kind of electronic warfare (EWAR) module. Low slots are for armor tanking, damage upgrades, and some capacitor ("cap") mods.
Players starting out will buy their T1 frigate of choice after going through the tutorials. How should they start their ship fitting? One of the first things to do is to consider what bonuses the ship has. Forget what race the ship comes from; just look at the bonuses and the slot layout. Any kind of decent tank, whether for PvP or PvE, is going to require around three slots at the minimum, so if a ship has, say, one mid slot and four low slots, it's likely that the low slots will be the best place to put tanking mods or vice versa. To help in this aspect, one can observe whether the ship has any tanking bonuses, such as the Punisher's 5% armor resistance per level. A simple reason for an ALOD would be shield tanking what is clearly an armor-tanking ship. Some ships—most often the Gallente or Minmatar ships—have very even slot layouts and often do not have tanking bonuses, meaning that players can often choose which kind of tank they would prefer, e.g. shield tanking using low slots for damage or armor tanking with mid slots for EWAR.
The Talos is a great example of a ship that can go armor or shield tank. Generally, shields are preferred for the damage output. Also notice there are only two different damage modules in the low slots: magnetic field stabilizers and a tracking enhancer.
Now that the correct kind of tank has been chosen, the player needs to look at weapons. An error that many fall into is using various different weapons simultaneously. This causes two problems: having both working at their optimal is very difficult (have fun trying to get the right crystals for both pulse lasers and beams during a fight!) and having the corresponding damage mods means effectively losing damage potential for the insane who fit two different weapon types, because, say, both a mag stab and a heat sink need to be fitted rather than two of the same. A rule of thumb is to generally fit a whole rack of whatever biggest gun fits, with smaller guns being easier to fit but with associated lower DPS and range.
THE LESS BASIC
A rule of threes applies to EVE ship fitting. When fitting a module type, such as a damage modifier or tank hardener, each subsequent module of the same type fitted has an increasing penalty. For example, fitting one gyrostabiliser is going to give the biggest bonus, a second one a little less, and the third a lot less. For damage mods, it's generally not recommended to fit more than three because the penalty becomes so great that players would have more benefit from fitting a different module type. Many PvP fits have two heat sinks and a tracking enhancer rather than three heat sinks, for example.
Note that the stacking penalty does not affect remote repair systems or offensive modules. For those reasons, it is useful to know which modules stack penalties and which ones do not. Regardless of the kind of tank a player chooses, it is almost always a good idea to fit a damage control module. Structure tank aside, and even though the bonus to shield/armor is quite low, it has the advantage of not stacking with other tanking modules, meaning that it is often a better choice than a third or fourth hardener. The reactive armor hardener is in the same boat, as are the auxiliary shield boosters. Stacking penalties are why ship losses that have four or even five damage modules are hilarious; the benefits of having those extra two damage modules become laughably insignificant (not to mention expensive for the crazy that fit faction/officer modules in an effort to get higher damage). Personally, anytime I have the desire to put in a third damage module, I ask myself whether there is anything else that would give me more benefit than using a third slot with a 50% penalty.
Quick aside: never, ever fit faction or officer weapons. First of all, they are ridiculously overpriced for their performance. Secondly, they cannot use tech two ammunition, which often has huge benefits over their tech one counterparts (for example, people using faction pulse lasers deserve to be shot because they can't use scorch crystals). Finally, they generally have lower damage potential because they cannot use tech two ammo and the weapon specialisation skill that adds 10% damage at level 5 does not affect them. This is why killmails with faction weapons fitted are passed along and laughed at.
Officer beam lasers = ALOD and much laughter.
At this stage, players may notice that their ship can fit fewer turrets than the number of high slots. The Nightmare above, for example, only has four turret slots. Those final slots can be used to give an edge during combat (energy neutralizers are a great choice for this), for scavenging or scanning, or for helping fleet mates in some way. If, however, filling this slot is at a detriment to other aspects of the fit, i.e. you need to sacrifice damage or tank, don't feel obligated to fill it with something. Another rule of thumb: if there is enough fitting capacity to throw something useful in there, do it. Otherwise, this is the one area where a player may leave an empty slot without being hated on.
Aside from that exception, never leave empty slots. Leaving an empty slot is akin to only half filling a gun magazine. If the fitting requirements are keeping a player from filling a slot, it's a good idea to use lower-level modules to give some fitting room or to wait before using that ship altogether. It is much better to have a fully-fitted and effective ship than one that is gimped because of fitting requirements. You wouldn't really put bets on a one-armed blind man in a fight, would you?
Filling all module slots means filling those extra rig slots. Remember that rigs fitted cannot be removed without destroying said rig, so players should choose carefully. If the ship is intended for PvE use, capacitor or active tanking bonus rigs are generally a good choice. In PvP, hitpoint buffer tanking is king and, as a result, players generally fit buffer tank bonuses in that area.
YOU'RE NOT THE FIRST TO HAVE TROUBLE WITH FITTING
Everyone has had a hard time learning how to do it. As a result, there are significant resources available to players starting out with a new ship. BattleClinic is an amazing resource with fits for almost every kind of ship. Since fits are subject to criticism, the ships with the most upvotes are generally decent fits to start with. A simple search for the kind of ship desired will often yield a decent result.
It can be a pain in the ass to buy a lot of modules only to find that they don't fit in the ship, that skills are missing, or that it doesn't really work for those purposes. To get around that issue and to let creativity run wild, every EVE player should have the EVE Fitting Tool (EFT) or a similar fitting program. Not only can players input their character's stats to know whether they can fit and fly ship x correctly, but players can also see total tank, damage, speed, align time, and a whole host of other ship stats that can be very useful. EFT also allows the import and export of ship fits, so you can show off your new concept to friends in EVE (and get laughed at).
Remember, as soon as players undock in EVE, they may as well consider their ship lost. The lesson to be learnt: everyone should try things out and see what works. Given the guidelines above, players should experiment with fits while taking into account their skill and fitting limitations. Eventually, players might realize they need a whole set of skills to fit a ship the way they desire. In my case, that is how I was led through a bunch of random skill queues during my EVE experience.
Part two of this series will focus on the differences between PvE and PvP fits, and how to fit each optimally.